Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
USA, 2017. Chestnut Ridge Productions, China Wit Media, Starlight Media, Super Hero Films. Screenplay by Jacob Koskoff, Michael Koskoff. Cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel. Produced by Reginald Hudlin, Jonathan Sanger, Paula Wagner. Music by Marcus Miller. Production Design by Richard Hoover. Costume Design by Ruth E. Carter. Film Editing by Tom McArdle. Academy Awards 2017. Phoenix Film Critics Awards 2017.
Years before making history as the first African American to serve as a Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) is a lawyer for the NAACP defending cases in which the defendant’s race is being used as a hindrance against their receiving justice. The case that this uninspiring biopic chooses to focus on puts Marshall in the way of Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), a Jewish insurance lawyer in Connecticut, for a case defending a chauffeur (Sterling K. Brown) accused of raping his employer’s wife (Kate Hudson). Marshall retains Gad as a figurehead to get around the state’s laws about having him practice outside his local Bar, but the unsympathetic judge (James Cromwell) refuses to allow Marshall to even speak in court and orders Friedman to take the lead despite his never having previously worked on a criminal case. These two have to fight against some pretty impressive odds, amassing testimony from witnesses who can’t be counted on while, outside the courthouse, public anger mounts, late night beatings occur and NAACP headquarters questions the wisdom of getting involved in so dubious a case. The determination on the filmmakers’ part to tell this story accurately without offending anyone (not an easy task considering their chosen case proves racism by accusing a rape victim of lying) ends up watering everything down and results in a very bland screenplay. Gad and Boseman have little chemistry together, their performances always seem like they are delivering all their lines to stand-ins. Hudson tries to inject some style and depth to her femme fatale assignment but is as confused as the whole operation is, a movie about a man who is mostly prevented from doing anything in the story’s most dramatic moments.